As if this year hasn’t been stressful enough, parents and kids are now facing yet another tough decision: figuring out what to do about school this fall.
Most of the school districts in Cuyahoga County have implemented virtual schooling for all students, at least for the first quarter or semester. However, at some point, most school districts will likely offer the choice between in-person and virtual learning. This is not an easy decision to make for any family, and the correct choice for one family may not be the right one for another.
The American Academy of Pediatrics spoke out several weeks ago about the importance of in-school learning. We know that children tend to learn better in school and that in-person learning improves social skills and overall mental health. However, with COVID-19 cases remaining so high, in-person school may not be the best option for all kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics has altered its stance, admitting that while in-person learning is important, it may not be the safest option in areas with high rates of COVID-19. This announcement came around the same time as the Cuyahoga County Board of Health recommended online schooling for the first quarter.
As families experienced this past spring, adjusting to virtual/online learning is no easy task. Transitioning from summer back to a school routine is often tough, even in normal times. Making the adjustment this year will be especially difficult for kids.
Children used to an extended “summer schedule” should begin the gradual return to normal bed-times and morning routines. If your student receives special services, ask your school how these will continue with virtual education.
One of the biggest challenges kids faced in the spring was staying focused and organized enough to complete assignments. Parents should work with their kids to organize a reasonable schedule for schoolwork and to make sure they stick to it. Kids will also be missing gym class and sports, so it helps to schedule time for physical activity each day.
At some point this year, families will likely have to choose whether their kids return to school or continue virtual learning. Some children may be considered higher risk for COVID-19, or they may live with at-risk family members, and other kids may be anxious about returning to school in person or may struggle with a hybrid schedule. In each of these instances, continuing virtual school may be more appropriate.
A return to in-person lessons may be the best choice for some families. Many kids struggle with self-directed learning and benefit from in-person instruction. Some parents may not have the flexibility to stay at home with their kids. Children with special needs or who are on individualized education plans may have more success in school.
There are a lot of factors involved in the decision process, including each school’s plans for safety and each parent’s level of comfort. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online toolkit that can help parents weigh the options and make this important decision.
Whether your kids continue virtual learning or return to school, they may experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. It’s important to touch base with your kids on a regular basis and monitor for any behavior changes. Before school starts, check if they have any specific concerns. It’s also helpful to find out what mental health services are available through the school.
With a little preparation and lots of love, we can ease our kids into this next transition and help them face the challenges ahead.
Visit bit.ly/3a9yudg to access the CDC online toolkit.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.